On Being Dominican
Using Person-Centered Concepts to Explore Dominican Identity
by Jasmine Celeste Cepeda, 2017
I value the chance to contribute to the many communities that I belong to, including the Dominican community. My hope is that this piece can create, if not expand, a safer and warmer space for all self-identifying Dominicans to connect and relate to one another, where in past times it may have seemed threatening to the self.
I am also indebted to my friends and family for engaging in galvanizing conversations with me about Dominican identity.
Though I am very influenced by the ideas of Post-colonial, Feminist, Anti-Racist, and Cultural theorist, my goal in this investigation is not to explore forms of Dominican essentialism or “authenticity,” or to critique the cluster of concepts that are attached to correlated ideas such as the performance nature of social identities, ethnic absolutism, or the varying societal -isms that exists (for this, the works of Stuart Hall, Judith Butler, Benedict Anderson, Edward Said, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak are foundational).
The aim of this piece is to use person-centered concepts, developed by Humanist Psychologist, Carl Rogers, to analyze the many ways that some Dominican-Americans may fall trap to vulnerable or threatened psychological states of self and experience. Moreover, the goal is to explore some person-centered concepts that can guide Dominicans from said states, and into more nonjudgmental, fully experiencing and congruent states of self and experience.
I will also be utilizing my particular experience as a Dominican-American, and Dominican-American psychotherapist who has had, and currently has, both Dominican and Dominican-American identifying clients to examine the Dominican Identity within the person-centered approach, and be using two specific case examples (with the permissions of the individuals, and their identities anonymous).
This analysis is useful for Dominicans who have or have had an anxious relationship with their Dominican identity. The exploration is also important in promoting an unconditional positive regard and a nonjudgmental attitude towards succeeding generations of Dominicans who live outside the Dominican Republic, and whose distance towards their Dominican ancestry and lineage will inevitably be increasing, as their connections with other social identities expand. Furthermore, I hope that this analysis can help therapist and those in the helping profession increase their cultural competence, and help decrease generalization about the Dominican identity and culture, widening the spaces for pluralities of experience.
The Dominican Identity as an Ethnic-Identity
I believe it is important to clarify that I am not speaking of the Dominican identity as a national identity, but as an ethnic identity--a social identity that signifies a sense of belonging to one's ethnic group, which share similar language, history, culture, heritages and values (Phinney, 1991). Moreover, although I am beholden to think about Dominican identity as Dominican-American (or -New Yorker) identity, since I am Dominican-American (or -New Yorker), Dominican identity will not be specified in this paper as Dominican-American identity, that is, the Dominican ethnicity is what will be explored, which exist within any Dominican-identifying person regardless of their transnational, multicultural, or other social identities. The implication is not that these other social identities do not influence the individual’s identity, but rather, for the purposes of brevity, dominicanness as a single ethnic and cultural identity will be examined. Clearly, scholars who have studied, for example, racism and colorism in Dominicans (Candelario, 2007), gender discrepancies in the Dominican culture (Horn, 2014), Dominicans in Canada (Hernandez; Marrara; Sezgin, 2016), Dominicans in Puerto Rico (Duany, 1998), Dominicans in Spain (Fitzpatrick, 2013), Chinese-Dominicans (Chen, 2008), or Queer Dominicans (Murray, 2013) indicate unique struggles regarding dominicanness as it relates to multiple social identities, but for this, their scholarship is recommended.
What does it Mean to Be Dominican?
To give the short version, from my experience, and what appears to be widely accepted, to be Dominican as an ethnic-identity connotes sharing a similar language (Spanish) and history (colonized by the Spanish and Columbus, who murdered thousands of indigenous Taínos from the land, which was then re-inhabited by African slaves and European settlers), sharing the enjoyment of specific foods and dishes (like plátanos or mangú), music, (such as bachata and merengue), heritage and traditions (like carnivals or religious [catholic] practices) and values (such as family values) (Phinney, 1991; Press, 2010).
“I think that some of what I’ve done professionally and in my work has been a reaction to my early upbringing. Where I was not heard, I really want to hear people. Where I didn’t dare to expose what was going on in my own world of fantasy, because that’s what it was, I would really like to hear from other people. I would like to make it safe for them to reveal their own inner worlds.” -Rogers, 1985, 1:32
One of the main reasons why I feel compelled to share my personal and professional experience exploring the Dominican identity is because of my own past anxiety with the identity, especially during my first professional job as a psychotherapist.
To start my Dominican narrative in medias res, I worked at a clinic in West Harlem for about one year, where many clients from Harlem and Washington Heights received their mental health services. As a bilingual therapist, I expected to get Spanish-speaking clients from a wide variety of places, but to my naive surprise, most of my Spanish-speaking clients were Dominican. I should not have been surprised, since my job also served clients from Washington Heights, an area known for its Dominican population, and especially since 2013 data shows that Dominicans have recently surpassed Puerto-Ricans as the highest Latino population in NYC (“Dominicans now outnumber Puerto Ricans in NYC,” 2014). Even more interesting, it appears that more Dominicans live in New York City than any other city in the world, with the exception of Santo Domingo, the capital and largest city in Dominican Republic ("New York City Population," n.d.).
The Demographics of My Dominican clients
I had about thirty Dominican clients at the Manhattan clinic. During this time, I also worked in a clinic in Queens, where I had, and still have, about ten Dominican clients. The clients that I see range between ages twelve to seventy. About 75% of my Dominican clients in the Manhattan Clinic were female. The presenting problems that most of them arrived to therapy with were related to Depression, Anxiety, or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. In addition, my five to ten clients who were older than 50 would habitually request my help with their SSI/D applications, indicating that they also had stressors related to finances, medical and health problems, and life-phase anxiety. All of my Dominican clients, like all my current clients and like all human beings, had a wide variety of unique difficulties, life circumstances, and experiences, and their presenting problem in the first session were not always what continued to be explored in later sessions.
I do not (usually) self-disclose with clients in therapy.
Self-disclosure is a widely ethical and clinical matter because it may jeopardize boundaries between the client and therapist and impair treatment. However, if mindfully done, self-disclosure can increase the therapeutic bond and probability of successful treatment (Barnett, 2011; Henretty, Levitt 2010). That said, I do not usually self-disclose any personal details about myself in session, except if it may help the client feel more comfortable, which is sometimes the case when I disclose my Dominican identity. It is indeed important to make individuals of other cultures, especially cultures that may stigmatize mental health, feel safe, accepted, and at ease. Still, I try to hold off from disclosing information about my ethnic identity if it is unnecessary.
Yet, I have noticed that, usually, my Dominican client who are older than forty, unlike my other Spanish-speaking clients, will be insistent on knowing my ethnicity, along with the specific city my parents are from, once they learn I am Dominican (since they usually correctly assume that I was not born there, but in the US). My experience has led me to believe that, once they learn I am Dominican, my Dominican clients who are the most curious, do indeed become less anxious and more talkative. As stated above, their desire to know my ethnicity may be important for them to feel more connected to the helping professional, and less anxious.
I Started to Become Anxious
The “where are you from” conversation with my Dominican clients began to give me anxiety, since I continuously began to be asked the question and repeatedly get mixed responses to my answer. One might say I was experiencing countertransference. Countertransference is the unconscious (sometimes conscious) personal and unique feelings and thoughts that therapist have, which are triggered by the client, but are unrelated to the client and rather connected to the therapist’s own unresolved issues. In contrast, transference can be described as the unconscious (sometimes conscious) feelings and thoughts that the client has concerning their therapist that are, in similar fashion, unrelated to the therapist, but connected to the client’s own unresolved issues (Hayes, Nelson, and Fauth, 2015)
Some of the clients would be very blunt and tell me that I simply did not “look” Dominican, and others would validate my thoughts that they “now feel more comfortable” knowing that I was Dominican. But when I would ask why I did not “look” Dominican, I would get responses like “You’re skin is so white,” “You have short hair,” and even “You don’t act Dominican.” The replies would flash me back to the times in my past that I was called “Gringa!” or someone had challenged my Dominicanness by saying I was not “that Dominican,” or Dominican “enough.” Why did I get so offended with my clients, and back then as well? This is what I wanted to explore for myself, as someone who identifies as Dominican, and as a Dominican Psychotherapist who had, and still has Dominican-identifying clients.
Yo Soy Dominicana
I was raised by two Dominican-born and Dominican-raised parents who immigrated to NYC in the 1980’s. I was raised Dominican, not American, that is, my parents spoke to me in Spanish (they never learned English well enough to feel confident to speak it to me or fully understand it, and still do not), they cooked Dominican food, we celebrated Dominican holidays with Dominican music and dancing; I was forced to do my communion and confirmation, and we went to visit family in Dominican Republic some summers. My parents are not American and did not raise me practicing American culture. I am Dominican because my parents raised me this way, unconsciously and having no other real choice. Most importantly, being part of the first generation of Dominicans from my family to reside in the states, I do not feel very far removed from the Dominican culture and identity.
Yet, growing up in East New York, Brooklyn, my formative years were surrounded by mostly African-Americans, which most of my friends were. I remember one day in seventh grade, I realized that there was a clique of Dominican girls in my school that I had never noticed, mainly because they were in eighth grade and had different school schedules. I was involved in many extracurricular activities in Junior High School, including step-team, basketball, journalism, and chorus. Interestingly, one of my friends in chorus was part of this clique of Dominican girls, and when, on a rainy Friday afternoon she invited me to hang out with her and her friends, I was very excited! Little did I know how uncomfortable I would feel. I spent that evening with the girls. They were listening to Aventura, talking about other cute Dominican boys, and their sexual adventures, and upcoming parties, as well as going in and out of Spanish and English. I was mostly quiet. I did not feel pressure to be someone I was not, fortunately, but I could see how another pre-adolescent Dominican girl could easily feel insecure and “play the part” to fit in with the clique.
The next day at chorus practice, my friend asked me if I was okay on Sunday, since I was quiet, and I told her the truth: “I don’t have a lot of Dominican friends. …and I don’t really listen to Aventura like that...” She understood. She and I bonded over our mutual joy of singing and music, and remained friends even after she graduated. She did not care or judge me based on how Dominican I was, even if her friends did. After explaining my discomfort, she assured me: “Oh, its okay. My friends told me they didn't even know you were Dominican! They thought you were white or mixed [half black and white]!” Though she and I remained friends, I never felt comfortable to hang out with her clique again.
Because I did not “act Dominican,” it was assumed that I was not, and this is the problem that has continued to follow me, even now. However, Person-Centered concepts have helped me gain insight into how to resolve my anxiety, maintain a confident, secure and congruent self, and help Dominicans with similar tensions.
I learned I was not alone. My clients also suffered Dominican angst!
During therapy, I try to be as mindful and present as possible for the client, which is part of person-centered psychotherapy. In addition, the client’s race, ethnicity, or gender does not usually come up unless the client brings it up on their own, or these social identities connect with their psychological distress. Hence, if the topic of Dominican identity came up with my Dominican clients, many of them would confess their idiosyncratic versions of Dominican-Identity angst, especially my younger clients, who were under forty.
Interestingly, Scholar Carolee Ellen Iltis interviewed twenty psychotherapists in NYC about their experience working with over 2800 Dominican clients, and one of her findings was that a strong desire to preserve Dominican identity was a specific concern for Dominican clients, as well as other Hispanic communities, especially with migration struggles and economic instability (2001). Thus, it has been illustrated that Dominicans are conscious of their dominicanness in their lives and the topic tends to show up in therapy, making it very important for therapist to be culturally aware of the implications. For instance, a strong connection to one's ethnic identity has been found to be a protective factor against discrimination, as it may serve to maintain a sense of belonging (Romero, Fryberg, Orduna, 2013).
What is the Person-Centered Approach?
By utilizing Carl Rogers’ Person-Centered concepts and therapeutic practices, I was able to help my Dominican clients get closer to their actualized selves, and confront the discrepancies that caused them so much distress. Meanwhile, internally, and unbeknownst to them, I was also able to make sense and peace with my own dominicanness.
“In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or
cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How
can I provide a relationship which this person may use for [their] own personal
growth?” (Rogers, 1961, 32).
Before I go on to describe a couple of examples, I’d like to note that some client's’ psychological concerns were too distressing to allow time for any exploration to their Dominican identity. However, about fifty percent of the time, when their presenting concern that session was indeed their dominicanness, I would explore their dilemma. Moreover, Dominicans are a heterogeneous group and my examples are most definitely not meant to represent all Dominicans and their issues with Dominican identity.
Created by American and Humanist Psychologist Carl Rogers, the Person-Centered perspective is both a theory of self, personality, and change, as well as a model for psychotherapy (Rogers, 1959). Through the therapist’s acceptance or unconditional positive regard, openness to experience, empathy, and genuineness, the goal in person-centered therapy is to help clients reach their self-actualizing tendency, which will be further described. In person-centered psychotherapy the client is allowed to remove masks that they may be hiding under, and become curious about what is behind the masks, and what purposes the masks serve. The client is given a safe space to share discontent, dissatisfaction, confusion, relief, realization, insight and so on and so forth. As Rogers so eloquently put it:
“He discovers how much of his life is guided by what he thinks he should be, not by what he is. Often he discovers that he exists only in a response to the demands of others, that he seems to have no self of his own, that he is only trying to think, and feel, and behave in the way that others believe he ought to think, and feel and behave” (Rogers, 1961, p. 110).
There have been multiple ways that the PCA (person-centered approach) has been shown to be an effective therapeutic treatment on its own, as well as in linkage with other therapeutic models and theories, such as the cognitive sciences, mindfulness based approaches, developmental attachment theories, systems theory, positive psychology, and spirituality (Cornelius-White; Motschnig-Pitrik; Lux, Michael, 2013). Moreover, the PCA has been molded for varying populations, such as Child-Centered Play Therapy, a form of play therapy developed by Virginia Axline, an associate of Carl Rogers (Axline, 1969).
Carl Rogers on the Self and Construct of the Self
Rogers maintained that, though the self was a construct, it was a very crucial one that guided every emotion, thought, and action of the individual. He was honest when explaining his own premature reluctance to studying the self:
“Speaking personally, I began my work with the settled notion that the ‘self’ was a vague, ambiguous, scientifically meaningless term… Consequently I was slow to recognize that when clients were given the opportunity to express their problems and their attitudes in their own terms, without any guidance or interpretation, they tended to talk in terms of the self. ...It seemed clear from such expressions that the self was an important element in the experience of the client, and that in some odd sense his goal was to become his ‘real self’” (Rogers, 1959, p. 200-01).
I could not help but smile when I first read these sentences because it is so factual to my experience as a psychotherapist. The self is truly all that the client talks about, which, when one really thinks about it, should be the main topic in therapy.
In Rogers’ view, the self is a “gestalt” that is not fixed or static, but can be completely changed by the slightest experience. A person does not have a fixed amount of traits or sense of self, since each experience, if they are open to experience, will change them, even if it is just a little, and the changes will accumulate and continue to change the person, such in a fractal motion, I would say. For example, if a Dominican person who is open to experience, and is not solely fixed on preserving or maintaining their Dominican identity, begins dating an Asian person with very different interests than them, their identity will surely begin to change, and distance from their Dominican identity will most likely increase, as they gain new experiences in life that are unrelated to their Dominican identity, but their other forms of identity.
An interesting point that Rogers makes about the self is that: “It is a gestalt which is available to awareness though not necessarily in awareness. It is a fluid and changing gestalt, a process, but at any given moment it is a specific entity which is at least partially definable in operational terms...” (Rogers, 1959, p. 200). Hence, Rogers suggest that whoever we are at a given moment or stage in our life can be brought to awareness, but can never be awareness of self itself, since the awareness of who we are is continuously changing. For instance, continuing with the short example above, the Dominican person may end their relationship with the Asian partner, and thus, become distant towards the identity they had built when they were with their last partner, again, creating a new identity. Their Dominican identity is always there, of course, but it’s strength fluctuates since the person is open to experience and expanding their sense of self, which some Dominicans, and people in general, defend against.
An important concept that Rogers uses is that of self-actualization, a term coined by Humanistic Psychologist, Abraham Maslow. Maslow conceptualized self-actualization as the desire to reach one’s fullest potential after all external basic needs are met, including food, shelter, safety, sense of belongingness etc. (Maslow, 1954). Rogers believed that self-actualization was the pinnacle of human experience, and can occur when (after all their basic needs are met) an individual’s ideal self, that is, their self-concept which they would most like to have, and which they place the highest value on, matches with their experiences, which they are fully open to (Roger, 1959). To better understand this self in congruence (towards self-actualization) it may be helpful to better understand the importance of experience (noun) and fully experiencing (verb).
In person-centered theory, experience is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, experience is anything that occurs that can potentially be available to awareness, thus, it also includes the unconscious and what exists outside an individual’s awareness. Additionally, experience as a noun includes the influences of memory and past experiences as it relates to its being active in (or influencing) the present. In contrast, “to experience” (as a verb) represents experiencing “more fully in awareness,” which means to experience the event, emotions, and its personal meaning altogether, and in congruence with the self. Rogers emphasized “the experiencing of a feeling all the way to the limit,” so for that moment the person is fear, anger, tenderness, love etc. (Rogers, 1959, p. 113).
Openness to experience is important for a gestalt self that is always changing. Openness to experience is the opposite of defensiveness, and illustrates that the individuals beliefs are not rigid, and they can tolerate ambiguity (Rogers, 1961).
Incongruence, Threat, and Defensiveness
If one has a fixed self and is not open to experience or fully experiencing, they may find themselves in incongruence with the self and experience. When someone experiences things that may be incongruent to their individual self-concept, they may feel threatened or vulnerable, so will tend not to lean towards fully experiencing, but rather, become defensive or deny their feelings and thoughts. Incongruence occurs in these spaces where there is a discrepancy between the self as perceived, and the actual experience of the person. Below is a graph that I have created to illustrate what may occur in incongruence (Rogers, 1959).
Incongruence between self and experience can be so anxiety provoking and threatening to an individual that they become defensive through what Rogers labeled, distortion in awareness and denial in awareness (Rogers, 1959).
It would appear appropriately rational for someone whose entire identity is highly dependent and stuck on being one specific way, lets say, in “being Dominican,” to become defensive and feel threatened in the presence of any other way of being, or “being Dominican.” Therefore, maybe dating an Asian person and listening to heavy-metal may cast a Dominican as “raro” to their family members, but it may only be because the family is defensive and feel threatened by the self-confident nature of the person who is following their “non-Dominican” interest; something their family members may not feel self-secure enough to do. Consequently, the family may want the individual to act “more Dominican” and listen to bachata, only in the service to help the family members feel better about their inabilities to express anything more than their Dominican-identity. In the end, it is up to the individual to be congruent with who they want to be (like a “heavy-metal fan”) or incongruent. These concepts of incongruence and threat can be applied to most social identities like gender, race, class, sexual orientation, and even specific professional identities.
I once had a thirty-four year old Dominican, lesbian client who started off a session saying: “I’m dating this chick who’s mad Dominican.” She explained her discomfort because she did not feel she related to her own dominicanness as much as her new partner. My clients’ parents spoke English, had been well acculturated in American culture for more than twenty years, and were “more progressive than other Dominicans,” she said. Meanwhile, her new partner was “mad Dominican,” twenty-eight, and had not come out to her parents. While exploring what exactly discomforted her through unconditional positive regard, empathic listen, and genuineness, I assisted her as she came to her own conclusion: “She has an idea of what it means to be Dominican and I guess I’m not it. She teases me a lot about it, and makes me feel stupid for calling myself Dominican... I think she might just be too Dominican for me, and I may not be Dominican enough for her…not to mention, she’s not even out, which is another problem…”
On the Rigid Dominican
An individual may perceive themselves as having characteristics such as being a good bachata dancer, great cook of Dominican food, great Spanish speaker, being family-oriented, outgoing, and even a Dominican citizen, which may make them feel confident, secure, and “mad Dominican,” but then in encounters with other Dominicans who may not share the same characteristics, they might experience feeling insecure and angry. These uncomfortable feelings may lead them to shame the other person for being “less Dominican,” and deny their full experience with the person.
The incongruence between self and experience happens mainly because the person holds a static view of oneself and one’s identity/ies. In the example given above, the woman my Client was dating appeared to have a vulnerable sense of self that was wholly connected to being Dominican and limited in its way of being. Having such a static Dominican self is vulnerable and unstable because the individual will undoubtedly be challenged and threatened by the infinite ways of being Dominican. On the other hand, being open to experience and unattached to a fixed definition of what it means to be Dominican, would not be as anxiety-provoking for the self or cause defensiveness.
Feelings and thoughts of threat and anxiety are usually unconscious at first, and having an understanding and a curious therapist, or even talking to another Dominican friend or relative, can help unravel some of these hidden feelings and thoughts.
Congruence of Self and Experience
To gain congruence of self and experience, the Dominican in the example provided would have to become more open to their experience and awareness, which would lead to realizing new found characteristics that are unrelated to their Dominicanness, and a release of their rigid sense of self and being Dominican--leading to further self-actualization. Sure, their strength to their Dominican identity can be strong, but if they continue to hold that their way of being Dominican is the only or better way, they will see all other ways of being Dominican as threatening (because it threatens their own dominicanness) and become defensive and judgemental towards the Dominican identity of others. Below is a graph that I’ve created explaining the process towards congruence of self and experience (Rogers, 1959).
The congruent person becomes more mature and expresses maturity through his experience. They are not defensive, they accept accountability for being different from others, along with their own different behaviors, and can make up their own evaluations of experiences depending on their own openness to experience. They are also nonjudgmental and honor the differences in others and view all beings as worthy (Rogers, 1959).
“I Stay Dominican for my Family”
A twenty-seven-year-old Dominican male, raised in West Harlem, explained to me once in session that he identified more with the African-American culture and self-identified as a “radical Afro-Dominican” because he actively and fundamentally tried not to follow any Dominican traditions that he believed were originally European. For him, this included celebrating carnivals, following the Catholic religion, and talking Spanish. He was born in the Dominican Republic, but came to NYC with his family at age six. I helped him realize the difficult, if not impossible task to completely separate oneself from traditions introduced by colonizers, as well as the trouble to be absolutely certain that some of these practices were not partly indigenous or African. He was open and receptive. He then began to share his anxieties around not feeling “very Dominican” as he described it. As I stayed open and genuine in the room with him, it dawned on me that he might have been overcompensating for the feeling and belief that he was not “very Dominican” by describing himself as a “radical” Dominican.
I explored this idea with him. I tried to help him clarify why he had created this rigid way of being in the first place. He was able to acknowledge that it was because: “Without that structure I feel like I wouldn’t be able to relate to being Dominican...I want it to mean something to me…” I encouraged him to challenge his own thoughts, and slowly guided him through the evidence that he was indeed Dominican, even if it was only mainly through his lineage (both parents are Dominican) and how he was raised (he reported that his parents raised him expressing some Dominican culture). Through providing unconditional positive regard, empathic listening, and genuineness, he was slowly able to fully open to experience and his unconsciousness. He gained insight that helped him see what his struggle with his dominicanness was actually about--his struggle to maintain family ties, especially as he got older and started his own family with a non-Dominican.
He said, and I will never forget it because it hit a chord in me, “I stay Dominican for my family, but I really don’t know what it means. I just want to be me, but me sometimes is not that Dominican, so then where does my Dominicanness go when I’m just being me; out the window?”
“Where does your family go when you’re just being you? Out the window?” I asked.
“No, of course not,” he answered.
“They stay with you, just like your Dominicanness.” I said, trying to help him recognize that, if his emotional ties to his Dominican identity were based on his connection to his family, then his Dominican identity would never go anywhere, and always and innately be a part of his lived experience.
Even more profoundly, my client was able to express his solidarity to his race, which is not always the case with Dominicans (see Candelario, 2007): “I am black before anything and that’s something I feel emotionally and viscerally connected to…but I don’t feel that same solidarity to the Dominican community itself...but I guess what emotionally connects me to being Dominican is that my parents are Dominican, and maybe that’s enough.” I wanted him to understand that it was enough. We must define our experiences for ourselves because no one else can, hence, if he felt an intimate and genuine connection with the Dominican identity, all it seemed that he needed was a safe space to explore and create more clarity around the reasons why. We explored the topic for a couple more sessions, and in the end, he grew more tolerant towards ambiguity, less defensive, and closer to a more actualized and congruent self. Finally, he was able to confidently, and with a welcomed relief, pronounce: “I think I’m finally okay with my Dominicanness.” Later, alone with myself, I said the same thing.
A Spectrum of Dominicanness: Some Dominican Are More Dominican Than Others
In a conversation between bell hooks and Laverne Cox for the New School, Cox asks hooks about how feminist can create space for all forms of feminism and try “to com[e] together across differences, “rather than implying that “one person is more feminist than the other," and hooks replies: "I think it's difficult because some people are more feminist than others..." (hooks and Cox, 2014, 0:40-2:35). In her answer, hooks goes on to give an example of women who identity as feminist, but also identity as anti-abortionist, which hooks insinuates is less feminist than other feminist, who believe that all women should have reproductive rights. She asks, “If feminism is all things to all people, then what is it?" In a similar vein, I ask, if Dominicanness is all things to all Dominicans, then what is it?
Since we are examining the Dominican identity as an ethnicity, unlike other social constructs like Race and Gender, the Dominican ethnicity does indeed have a set of shared cultural practices, like dance, music, food, religion, and particular rituals and practices that are specific to the Dominican culture (Phinney, 1991), hence, it seems to me that a Spectrum of Dominicanness can, or already does exists. What I mean by a Spectrum of Dominicanness is the concept that a Dominican can be “more” or “less” Dominican than another person, since a Dominican’s connection to their Dominican identity can be “strong,” if it is a big part of the person’s life, including practicing and expressing Dominican culture, or “weak,” if it is not. However, “strong” and “weak” are not here to imply “better” or “worse,” it just is a description and way of being. Hence, I would not advocate any binary way of perceiving an identity, since binary concepts create more vulnerability for incongruence with self and experience. A Spectrum of Dominicanness may sound scary to one who holds a rigid sense of self and of their Dominican identity, but I believe the concept is useful in helping all Dominicans express acceptance or unconditional positive regard towards themselves and each other. What’s more, Milagros Ricourt has already proposed something similar, that is, a Dominican Identity Continuum, based off her research interviewing 98 Dominicans living in New York City (2002), and defined the continuum by the time spent and acculturated in the United States. Hence, a Spectrum of Dominicanness is not as wild a thought as it may seem.
I hope this piece has illuminated the many ways that individuals, specifically Dominicans, can hold on to rigid forms of identity, which can lead to psychological states of anxiety, defensiveness, threat, and vulnerability, blocking them from fully experiencing, as well as connecting with others.
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